The wonders of nanotechnology could soon benefit your next wine tasting experience. Using a series of tiny nano-sized sensors, a team of scientists at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center at Aarhus University have invented a way to mimic the wine drinking experience by simulating the unique sensation of dryness that wine creates in the mouth.
This technology could eventually benefit wine producers by allowing them to test this dryness earlier in the winemaking process. When grapes become wine, producers carefully control what happens to the grapes throughout the process. Something called astringency, or that dry sensation that wine creates in the mouth, is of particular importance to producers because it affects how a wine tastes to a drinker. The wine's tannins, which have a direct impact on the flavor of each individual wine, creates this sensation.
Currently, producers test for astringency much later in their winemaking process, by human tasters. However, the Aarhas University's "mini-mouth" allows for sensors to test for astringency earlier in production, even before the wine is ready for consumption.
"We don't want to replace the wine taster," says Joana Guerreiro, PhD, author of the study. "We just want a tool that is useful in wine production. When you produce wine, you know that the finished product should have a distinct taste with a certain level of astringency."
The mini-mouth not only simulates astringency, but also measures it. Astringency naturally occurs in the mouth when proteins there interact with molecules in the wine. When that happens, the proteins and molecules bind, creating the sensation of dryness that happens when we drink wine.
The sensor consists of gold nanoparticles on a small plate. Scientists add proteins found in saliva to the plate, and then they add wine. They focus a beam of light on the nanoparticles that allows them to see the proteins and the effect the wine has on them.
Although creating a process for better wine tasting has value to wine producers and drinkers, the study's scientific team believes their research could also find potential use in the health and medical sectors. The "mini-mouth" allows for the measurement of other things too, such as drugs for the human body.
"Understanding the effect is an important prerequisite for producing better and more targeted medicine," says Duncan Sutherland, the study's research director. "The sensor can be used for diagnostic purposes, so it could possibly be helpful for discovering and even preventing diseases."